In May 2022, Abdul received seed funding from the ICB BOOST programme. Read below about Abdul's proposal and what he has been up to since then!

Chicken eggs are a ubiquitous ingredient consumed across international cuisines. However, their production accompanies a huge environmental and animal welfare cost. Cellular agriculture (the production of agricultural products at a cellular level) provides an alternative production route to traditional farming. Two broad approaches to cellular agriculture exist: Cultivated meat/dairy (CM) and fermentation via recombinant organisms. CM involves the proliferation of an animal cell-type for direct consumption. Fermentation-based production employs genetically engineered bacteria/yeast to deliver edible organic molecules.

Cellular egg agriculture approaches have thus far been restricted to egg white (The EVERY Company, San Francisco, USA).1 The company employs recombinant expression of egg white proteins using yeast. Egg yolk, perhaps owing to its complex composition, has evaded commercial production via cellular agriculture. However, egg yolk provides most of the flavour profile and nutrient content of the egg. Consequently, production of non-animal derived yolk alternatives is of great interest.

In hens, yolk is formed through the deposition of yolk precursor compounds (vitellogenins) produced in the liver on the female germ cell (oocyte) via the vascular system.2 The yolk itself consists of a complex suspension of egg yolk granules in plasma, each fraction possessing a particular chemical profile.3 Studies into egg yolk composition for food science applications have yielded relatively detailed profiles of the egg yolk proteome.4,5 With an understanding of the composition of egg yolk, a platform is available to develop cellular agriculture approaches to their production.

It is likely that certain components of egg yolk are primarily responsible for the flavour and texture of the ingredient, as has been evidenced by previous forays into cellular agriculture approaches to milk production.6 Thus, recombinant expression of a selection of components may be sufficient to yield a convincing egg yolk replacement. This approach has proved successful in the production of milk-replacement products (Perfect Day, Berkeley, USA).6 Currently, several plant-based egg-replacement products exist on the market. However, these rely on legume-protein isolates to replace native egg yolk proteins, leading to a significantly altered flavour profile. 7,8,9 A convincing perspective on consumer meat and dairy preferences comes from by Patrick O. Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, who highlights the key value of meat by “what functional role it plays, rather than its source of origin”.10 Consequently, flavour and texture are of paramount importance to consumers in encouraging them to switch to an egg replacement product. 

After a long pause, I’ve decided to get stuck back into the project as I found some friends who were keen to get involved. An opportunity to enter a hackathon-style entrepreneurship challenge recently presented itself, and our team decided to enter with the idea I proposed in BOOST in order to get some more feedback from biotech entrepreneurs, VC funders and legal experts. We were able to focus in on a particular area of the market which is less saturated, and after some more comprehensive digging through patents, we found a promising niche to pursue. We’re currently working on generating our first prototype!

BOOST has provided a great opportunity to apply many of the research skills I’ve acquired in the PhD to a completely unrelated problem I’m hugely passionate about!